China calls for objective probe on Nord Stream blasts, suggests UN to play active role
Incident may become unsettled case as geopolitical wrestling intensifies
Published: Feb 22, 2023 08:25 PM Updated: Feb 22, 2023 11:59 PM
A picture released by the Danish Defence Command shows the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark on September 27, 2022. The two Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Europe have been hit by unexplained leaks, raising suspicions of sabotage. Photo: AFP

A picture released by the Danish Defence Command shows the gas leak at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm, Denmark on September 27, 2022. Photo: AFP

China on Wednesday called for an objective and fair investigation into the Nord Stream pipeline sabotage and to speed up the investigation, suggesting that the UN - the most authoritative and representative international organization - could play an active and constructive role on the matter. 

However, some observers warned that it will be difficult for UN Security Council or UN Secretariat to conduct the investigation as they need to show a collective decision-making process, which may yield to the US-led Western pressure. 

Russia and the US as well as other Western countries clashed on Tuesday over the Kremlin's call for a UN investigation into the sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. Russian envoy to the UN Vassily Nebenzia told the UN Security Council that Moscow has "no trust" in the separate investigations being carried out by Denmark, Sweden and Germany, AP reported. 

The pipelines carrying natural gas from Russia to Europe exploded on the same day under the Baltic Sea on September 26, 2022, causing large amounts of gas to leak into the waters and significantly affecting Europe's energy supply. The explosion of the pipelines, which are also part of the world's most important transnational energy supply infrastructure, have become an extreme event that shocked the world, especially after veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh released an article accusing the US of being behind the incident. 

On Friday, Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to investigate the blasts, suggesting that the UN Secretary General create an independent international commission of lawyers to investigate the sabotage, TASS said. 

"As the most authoritative and representative international organization, the UN can play an active role in conducting an international investigation and ensuring the security of transboundary infrastructure," Zhang Jun, Chinese envoy to the UN, said  at the UN Security Council briefing on the matter on Tuesday.  

He noted that China welcomes the draft resolution tabled by Russia in the council, and believes that it is of great significance to authorize an international investigation into the sabotage. 

Circumstances show the incident is not an accident but deliberate sabotage, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. If we do not find the truth about the incident and the relevant party behind it, it will give more opportunities to those ill-intentioned people to conduct more terrorist acts, delivering a heavy blow to global security, Wang said. 

The spokesperson echoed the Chinese envoy to the UN, saying that it is necessary to support and accelerate the investigative process and find the truth, on which the UN can play an active and constructive role. 

"The Nord Stream blasts were not only economic and livelihood problems but also a political issue which concerns the overall security and stability of Europe. Particularly on the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis, the incident undoubtedly escalated the tensions in the region, making the negotiation and dialogue more difficult and the construction of a balanced, effective and sustainable EU security structure more challenging," Wang said. 

While Russia and China are calling on the UN to play a leading role in conducting the investigation, some experts believe that the international organization where major countries have been wrestling would be limited in its efforts, thereby making the Nord Stream sabotage an unsolved mystery. 

"The UN has been under the influence of major countries, especially after the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The UN General Assembly, for example, has become a stage for a political containment by the US-led West," Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

While it is practical for the UN Security Council to lead the investigation, it is difficult to collect evidence and hold relevant parties accountable as there is no international legal institution for this purpose, Cui said. "The UN Security Council and Secretariat need to show the principle of collective decision-making process in which the US and other countries may vote against an investigation." 

China released its Global Security Initiative Concept Paper on Tuesday, which highlights the role of the UN, saying that the authority of the UN and its status as the main platform for global security governance should be upheld. 

Some Chinese experts laid out how the UN could potentially launch an investigation. For example, the UN Security Council passes a resolution and forms an investigative team. "Or relevant countries, such as Germany and Norway, submit the probe results to the council which will decide if it takes any further action," Tang Bei, associate professor at the school of international relations and public affairs at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"There's another possibility that the Nord Stream blasts would become another 'Cheonan sinking' - an unsettled case without clear findings," Tang said, referring to the sinking of a South Korean navy ship in 2010, which Seoul claimed was fired on by North Korea. 

The most authoritative way is for the council to form an investigative team, but under the escalated conflict between the US and Russia, it is unlikely that the council would pass such a resolution, she said.